After months of preparation and hours of driving in a cramped Jeep packed with two weeks worth of food, water, and gear, me and my four compadres (TJ, Francesca, Rola, and Isabella) finally saw a gathering of tents and structures off in the distance, we had finally made it to Afrikaburn. None of us had been to a burn before and as you might expect we were all eager to get inside. As we pulled up to a very minimal gate (a small section of traffic cones and a barrier made of ribbons), we saw a Trojan solider run up to our car and motion for us to lower our window.
“Howzit!? Are you vets or virgins!?”
We informed the armour-cladded man that this was our first time and he threw up his arms in the air and shouted
“We’ve got virgins! Aye! Burn virgins over here!”
Upon hearing the news the other burn volunteers were just as excited
I sat in the car thinking about how different this was to the gates at European festivals, where they don’t really care about you unless you look like you’re on drugs.
“Get out the car and give us a hug!” He said as he sprayed water in our faces with a squirt gun.
Normally I don’t hug big, furry, sweat covered men but I found myself getting out the car rather quickly, as did the rest of my crew. The first step out the car caused my iPhone to fall out my pocket, shattering against the desert floor, which funnily enough isn’t the first time the forces of gravity have been demonstrated by an apple. The broken screen however was the least of my worries, a few of the other volunteers had come to our car to hug us.
We got our wristbands and went to find our campsite, each tent and camp had a specific grid location, and each campsite had a theme and a gift. When you register for Afrikaburn you have to say what your gift to the burn will be, and when your campsite registers they also have to do the same, so every person has a personal gift and every group has a collective gift. We were “The High Society” We had never met any of these people before, Francesca had a friend in South Africa who put us in touch with them and that’s how we came to be a part of our new desert family.
Our campsite was a collection of our personal tents with one big communal tent in the middle. The big tent had a kitchen, a sitting area, and a few visionaries of The High Society even made a shower. Now, I’m going to explain this shower to you, cus it’s important; it was four big sticks in the ground with tarps between them to make walls, at the top were three sticks making a pyramid shape which is what held the “shower” in place. The shower was an upside down 6-gallon water jug with the bottom removed, it had a shower head screwed onto the top which you could open and close (or adjust water pressure).
You would have to fill up the jug and take it to the shower and attach it via a clip to a pullie system, you’d pull on the rope and the jug would rise to the top of the structure and then you’d clip it onto one of them beams so it would stay in place as you washed. Why is this important? That shower was like a perfect representation of Afrikaburn, all the makeshift structures, vehicles, and utilities reminiscent of our lives at home were here in the desert. We were here in the desert, the people here, all of the burners (most of which had never met) had formed a community with all the things needed to survive and it worked.
After setting up our tents and getting to know everyone, we all went to see the first sunset of Afrikaburn, and it was spectacular. We watched the actual sunset from the middle structure, which was a big lotus flower. Each of the outside petals had a different theme, one was hope, one was forgiveness, one was love, I forget the other, but what’s important is that they were all covered in messages from burners. They ranged from “I fucking love this place!”, to “I forgive you for all the horrible things you did to me, because if you hadn’t broken me then I wouldn’t be a strong a woman as I am today”. One in particular really caught me though, on the love pillar was, “2008-2014, you’ll always be my little girl”
The next day was the actual “start” of Afrikaburn, we woke up and had breakfast with the rest of our new friends. After eating we took a stroll towards the centre of the burn and noticed that we were camped right next to the bar tent (nice!) and it was also a movie theatre (double nice!) and it had a mini golf course next to it! My friend Izzy and I headed straight for the bar, now for those who don’t know, there is no money at Afrikaburn, it’s all gifts and trading, so the bar tent had weeks worth of booze and were giving it out for free.
Yes, free. I didn’t understand it either at first, on the way there we kept asking each other “but what do they mean by no money?”, in this case it means what it says on the tin, everything is a gift and everyone shares what they have with anyone who wants or needs it. The people who operated the tent didn’t even stay there the whole time, there was a sign saying “help yourself!” and the bar was fully stocked all the time. Some people (including me) even stood behind the bar making drinks for people, sometimes even for hours, not because they’d been asked to or because it was their tent, but because it was just a good thing to do!
Helping hands didn’t only exist in the bigger tents, for example, we were at one of the stages and a man came up with a wheelbarrow full of watermelon and a table. A few people ran up to him, not so they could get in line and start eating right away, but to help set up the table, cut up the watermelon, and collect any rinds that needed to be discarded. Something you’ll notice when you’re at Afrikaburn is the lack of rubbish, not a single piece will be on the floor. Even people smoking cigarettes will put it out and then put it in their pocket instead of on the floor, that is something very different from Europe where the ground is covered in bottles, cans, and empty laughing gas canisters.
We weren’t sure what to expect of the music there, me, TJ, and Fran had lived in South Africa but unfortunately we were all too young to go out and actually explore the music scene. Fortunately for us and everyone else that came to Afrikaburn, the music was brilliant. I am used to clutching to a schedule packed with names of artists that I actually know and trying to see most of them (but missing all of them), so it was a new experience for me to go in blind at a long event. There was a wide range of genres, live acts playing blues, punk, and jazz, and the djs were spinning house, hip hop, disco, and trance.
The music was as diverse and magnificent as the people, who seemed to come from everywhere in the world. We met people from Japan, almost everywhere in Europe, America, Brazil, and loads of other countries, it was nice to see such a broad range of nations present. The unity of the people and the diversity of the crowd were very refreshing in a world where it seems we seem to be building more walls than bonds. Sitting down and speaking with someone was like talking to an old friend, and the helpfulness and giving nature of burners is something that I wish existed more in our day to day lives.
Afrikaburn is the best place I’ve been to, it has a greater sense of community and selflessness than any other group of people has, even a lot of my friends at home aren’t as giving as these “strangers” that I spent a week in the desert with. It is a solid reminder of what is and isn’t important, in a place where you could die quite easily without the proper supplies we went out and created something that wasn’t only hospitable, but also incredibly fun, quite possibly the most fun I’ve ever had.
It’s hard to imagine a “festival” with no money, no leftover rubbish, and where everybody isn’t full of MDMA and ketamine, but that’s what Afrikaburn is. It wasn’t hard to leave, I was sad, and I didn’t want it to be over, but I was fulfilled, I left feeling better than when I got there (which never happens after a party or festival) and it made me feel wholesome and humbled to be a part of it all. For anyone who feels like the world is dog-eat-dog and full of greed, Afrikaburn is proof that we can all live together, without money, without waste, and without fear of each other... for at least a week.
- Camran Najam